The Importance of Finding a Headache Specialist

Written by Jessica Puterbaugh | June 29, 2022

Those with migraine face many challenges accessing quality care and treatment. Insurance barriers, lack of knowledgeable practitioners, stigma, and nervousness and anxiety due to previous negative experiences can make it very difficult to obtain appropriate healthcare. That’s why one of the most important things you can do is find a certified headache specialist or doctor who understands this complex disorder and is willing to partner with you on a treatment plan.

The benefits

A certified headache specialist is educated on specific types of migraine and headache disorders, and up-to-date on the newest treatments. They have a better understanding of what combinations of treatment tools may be most effective and can help you discover better ways to manage your attacks so they have less impact on your life. A side benefit of this is that more effective treatment can help reduce the risk of migraine disease progressing, and episodic migraine becoming chronic. Certified headache specialists may also have a better handle on how best to deal with insurance barriers that frequently arise.

The challenges

There are many benefits to finding a good doctor, but finding the right doctor can be a challenge. Due to a lack of qualified providers, many of us do not have certified headache specialists practicing near where we live, and if we do, it may take months to get an appointment. For the 40 million people in the US with migraine, there are fewer than 1,000 doctors in headache medicine who have completed the necessary education to receive a UCNS and/or AQH certification. Insurance barriers also compound the challenges in finding the right doctor, since even if a certified headache specialist is available locally they are often not in-network. Out-of-network doctors cost more, or may even not be covered by insurance at all, and the out-of-pocket costs may make access to care a complete impossibility.

In addition to the geographical and logistical challenges of finding a doctor, you may find your doctor is just not a good fit. If your doctor is dismissive, disbelieving, condescending, or just downright out of treatment options, it may be time to find a new one. Finding a knowledgeable doctor who listens and believes you is not easy, and it can require considerable time resourcefulness, and patience. Click HERE to find a headache specialist near you!

Here are some tips for finding a doctor who is the right fit:

Search for a certified headache specialist. As mentioned above, there are many benefits to seeing a certified headache specialist, as he/she will be the most knowledgeable and up-to-date, and will be most likely to help you create an effective treatment plan. You can find a current listing of all the certified headache specialists in the US HERE.

1. Remember that you are not stuck.

It’s okay to “break up” with your doctor if things don’t feel right. If you’re leaving appointments feeling stressed or dismissed, are unable to get timely appointments, or are just not getting anywhere with your treatment, it may be time to find a new doctor. This can be incredibly frustrating and take time, but it may be necessary.

2. Ask around.

Ask others in migraine support groups or local social media groups for recommendations of good doctors in your area. Word travels fast and if there is a doctor known for being dismissive or under-educated about migraine, consider steering clear.

3. Consider other options.

If there are not a lot qualified healthcare providers in your area, or if insurance is a barrier, you may benefit from a virtual headache clinical service like Neura Health, either for a second opinion, or as your primary headache specialist (note: use code MIGRAINEM15 to receive a discount at Neura Health).

4. Trust your gut.

You can often know if a doctor is going to be a good fit after just one appointment. Did they listen to you? Did you feel comfortable asking questions? Do you think this doctor will be willing to partner with you? Is their office willing to do the necessary paperwork to deal with insurance issues? If your answers to these questions present any red flags, keep searching.
Man talking with a doctor

Read our blog on knowing when it’s time to see a headache specialist and get tips for what to know before you go so that you can make the most out of your appointment.

While it’s important to partner with a certified headache specialist, it’s also necessary to find a good general practitioner. Specialists—even the good ones—often like to “stay in their own lane.” Finding a good general doctor can help you connect the dots and look at your symptoms from a holistic point of view, which is especially important because migraine can be comorbid with so many other conditions. Check out our Finding a Headache Specialist website and let us know if this is helpful to you!

Tell us! Do you have a headache specialist you can partner with? Have you ever had to “break up” with a doctor? We’d love to hear your tips for finding a doctor who is the right fit.

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